When UnitedHealth Group Incorporated of Minnesota selected
"UnitedHealthOne" as the umbrella brand for its
individual health insurance policies, it almost certainly did not
anticipate being dragged into an expensive trademark infringement
But that is exactly what happened.
UnitedHealth expended a considerable amount of time, energy, and
money in selecting its name. During 2007 and 2008, it worked with a
consultant who conducted a detailed branding audit, competitive
analysis, market segmentation, and brand identity analysis. The
results of this elaborate analysis suggested a variety of possible
names. UnitedHealth narrowed the list to four, and asked its
consultant to conduct focus groups in several U.S. cities.
"UnitedHealthOne" ultimately emerged as the consensus
favorite. In all, UnitedHealth spent more than $900,000 in the
process of selecting and launching the "UnitedHealthOne"
Apparently, the one thing UnitedHealth didn't do was ask a
trademark attorney to conduct a risk analysis of the numerous
trademarks owned by third parties that were mentioned in the brand
consultant's 600- page report. One of these was the registered
trademark "HealthONE," owned by HealthONE of Denver,
Inc., which operates hospitals in Colorado and surrounding
By the time UnitedHealth received a cease-and-desist letter from
the Denver healthcare company in 2008, it probably felt it was too
late to turn back in light of the amount spent. As a result, in
2010, HealthONE filed a federal lawsuit in Denver against
UnitedHealth alleging infringement of the "HealthONE"
In January of this year, UnitedHealth filed a motion for summary
judgment, asking the court to rule that HealthONE's
infringement claims could not be sustained. On May 30, 2012, the
court denied the motion. So the litigation will continue.
It is not unusual for businesses to put together committees and
hire consultants to help select new product names. They use
internet search engines to see what names are already in use. They
check with the appropriate agencies to see what corporate names are
already registered in their state. All this is well and good. But
as demonstrated by the UnitedHealth Group case (and many others),
it's not enough. Any naming project should include a
comprehensive clearance search and risk analysis by a competent
trademark attorney – and it should be done before
it's too late to pursue alternatives if one of the candidates
doesn't pan out. Failure to do so can be an expensive mistake
– one for which UnitedHealth is still paying.
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